–Triveni Goswami Vernal
Registered Special Educator (A64010)
While reading involves the processes of Decoding and Encoding, the ability to identify letters, letter sounds, blend the letter sounds etc, Comprehension is the ability to not only read the text, but also to process it and understand what is being read. It is the meaning being assigned to the words.
Reading Comprehension involves several strategies wherein the individual reading the text has to scan the text, establish connections with previous knowledge, visualize what has been written and infer its meaning. The strategies are activated before the individual begins to read the text (scan and predict, activate background knowledge, ask questions), during the process of reading (make connections, paraphrase, re-read, visualize, ask questions) and after the reading activity is over (main idea and summarize, text structure, review and re-read).
For children with Autism, who might not be able to express what they have read, through words, reading comprehension can be a challenging activity. Visualization especially, plays a very important role in comprehension. How do we imagine something while reading about it? How do we form a mental image of what we have read?
According to the Orton Gillingham approach, “Visualizing for comprehension means to formulate pictures in our minds based on the activities in a story. Begin with short passages, or you can stop frequently during a colorfully illustrated story to ask visualizing questions. As visualizing becomes more automatic for the reader, begin using text with less pictures & ask higher order thinking questions that will prompt deeper levels of visualizations” (taken from the website https://ortongillinghamonlinetutor.com/visualizing-for-comprehension/).
Some sample questions mentioned on the Orton Gillingham Online Tutor website for Visualizing for Comprehension include:
1. What did you see when you read the passage?
2. What colors did you see as you read?
3. What did you see for where the events happened?
4. What shapes did you see?
The idea is to allow the reader to consciously think of the mental image they may have formed while reading the passage, by asking prompting questions.
One can focus on the Wh questions (When, What, Why, Who, Where etc), Action (what is happening /what is the character/s doing), Emotion (What is the feeling emoted by the character/s), Visual details (description of the characters/landscape etc., in terms of size, colour, shape, number etc), Sensory details (does it smell/taste a particular way from the description given) etc.
One way of doing that is to make a portable Mind Map with the requisite questions for each story/ part of the story.
An editable Mind Map template can also be found on https://www.twinkl.co.in/resource/us2-e-53-mind-map-writing-template
For my son, I have also found using the Avaz app quite helpful. Within a few days of introducing the app to him, he learned to navigate the Menu and various folders and edit words. So, for some of his most widely read stories, he and I have created folders of the summarized versions of the stories visually (through photos found on the internet/from the image folder on the device). And also used the Advanced folder in the app, to ask questions regarding the Description of things /Emotions in the story etc.
According to the Pride Reading Program (https://pridereadingprogram.com/how-to-teach-visualizing-and-improve-reading-comprehension/), an activity that can be done is to ask the child to draw what is being described in the text: What is the picture in your mind? The focus here is not on the drawing ability /skills of the child, but just to see whether they can represent what they have read, visually. Initially, one can do this activity with very simple words and if one feels that the child is able to express themselves more, one can move on to more complex descriptions.
Another strategy suggested by them is Modelling the Visualization. One can take a story with good descriptive text and no pictures. And then read aloud the text, pause and describe the picture created in one’s mind regarding the text. For example, if the story talks about ‘a snow capped mountain overlooking a green meadow’, you can read that out aloud and then describe what picture formed in your mind– “I can see a tall mountain covered with snow. It is towering over a green meadow, with grass and some wildflowers etc etc” and you can also ask the child what picture formed in their mind/ if they could draw what they saw in their mind. One can do the Modelling with simple text also, like a description of a flower or a house etc. and then move on to more complex text, depending on the level of the child.
Other than these, one can also make Flash Cards that contain information about important characters, key words and events. And use audio-visual resources such as an animated version /audiobook of the book being read.
The idea is to create enough support /scaffolding via external props to help the child create an imagery of what is being read.
Visualization is just one, amongst many strategies for Reading Comprehension but a very critical one. Without developing this core strategy, the child will have a tough time comprehending the text being read. Hence, as an educator we must work on this skill by providing all kinds of scaffolding initially to help the child develop it automatically, over a period of time.
Author Triveni Goswami Vernal
Triveni Goswami Vernal is an Autism advocate, registered Special Educator (CRR A64010) and an Independent Researcher. Her areas of interest include Autism, Disability Rights, Gender, Art and Northeast studies. She is a mum to an 11 year old on the Autism Spectrum.
Creative representation for this blog is done by our extremely talented CreativeSaathi associate and Triveni’s son Kabir Vernal.
Acrylic painting on Ivory Paper
Kabir named this abstract piece “Dragonfly“. He perhaps visualized /imagined the Dragonfly’s path, as it moved around in the air.